SCOTLAND’S top prosecutor has said it “remains to be seen” more parents will be prosecuted for assault if smacking is banned.

Lord Advocate James Wolffe said the impact of the proposed legislation is still “unknown”.

The law in Scotland allows parents to be prosecuted for an assault on their children, however they can mount a defence of “reasonable chastisement”.

A member’s bill brought forward by Green MSP John Finnie would remove this defence from the law. Critics have voiced concerns that such a change could result in hundreds of parents being prosecuted for disciplining their children.

Wolfe told MSPs on Holryood’s Equalities Committee: “It is unknown in the true sense whether this will result in an increase in cases being reported or not.

“We do see if there is new legislation and attendant publicity around that may result in an increase in reporting, partly because attitudes change and people are sensitised to behaviour that they might not otherwise have reported.

“At the same time, no doubt it might have an impact in changing behaviours in another direction. So the question of whether there will be more cases reported is something that remains to be seen.”

Anne Marie Hicks, the national procurator fiscal for domestic abuse in Scotland, said an estimated 500 cases a year of parents assaulting their children are currently prosecuted in the country.

She said experience from other countries that have implemented a ban “has suggested you won’t see really significant increases in prosecution”.

If Finnie’s bill is passed, Wolffe said he would issue guidelines to Police Scotland on how the change in the law should be applied.

He said the Bill would “simplify the law by removing from the law on assault the defence of reasonable chastisement”.

The Lord Advocate added: “As the law currently stands, parents do not have an unqualified right to smack or chastise a child. Subject to the defence of reasonable chastisement, an assault by a parent on a child is a criminal offence.

“Allegations that a parent has assaulted their child are investigated by the police and reported to the Crown and maybe are prosecuted.”

Hicks said: “At the moment we have this available defence. It is only an available defence, it is not a barrier to cases being prosecuted.”